I Don’t Have to be Good at Yoga

For a long time I wasn’t good at yoga and that bothered me. I used to weep through class because I couldn’t effortlessly lift my legs and go into shoulder stand – I had to rock back and forth, useless cheating that frustrated me to no end.

Then I started going to yoga every day and, for a while, yoga got easier. Suddenly I could do all sorts of things that I hadn’t been able to do before and that was nice. And I decided I was ready to take it to the next level and started challenging myself to do things that I hadn’t done before.

And then it got harder again. Not just the hard things, the easy things, things I never used to have trouble with before got harder. I hit a wall. I hit a wall, bounced off, and ended up in a weeping pile on the floor again.

I questioned what was going on. Perhaps stress from other areas of my life was bleeding into my practice – everything felt out of control so my body felt out of control, too. Perhaps I was trying for perfection and yoga isn’t about perfection. Perhaps I wasn’t focusing on my breathing enough. When I felt better about how I had been doing, I treated yoga as meditation as opposed to exercise; perhaps losing that meditative approach self-sabotaged my practice. Perhaps I was comparing myself to the other people in class too much – there had been a shift in the people I was attending with and it’s always hard to focus on a beginner class when surrounded by young, long, slim dancer/yogis, demonstrating ease and strength in every move. Perhaps all those months that I thought I had been making progress, I had just been imagining it and I hadn’t really been any better than when my confidence had been at it’s lowest. Maybe I needed to walk more or do more weight-training. (But if you’re doing yoga every day, how do you have time for more?) Maybe I was just getting old and falling apart and should give up yoga.

At the end of Tuesday’s class, I had a revelation: I don’t have to be good at Yoga. Nothing in my life depends on it. It’s something I do because I enjoy moving around, I enjoy the company of my yoga-buddies, and it keeps me busy so I don’t get into trouble. But I’m not getting graded on it. No one’s love for me will increase just because I can hold half-moon pose or side-plank. And if anyone thinks less of me for skipping rock-star pose – well they’re missing the point and should be doing aerobics instead of yoga.

So today I said ta heck with it and made my mantra, “you don’t have to be good at this, you just have to do it.” It helped a little but, at the end of class, I realized I was still trying to be good at it. Was I comparing myself to others in class? Well, maybe a little. It wasn’t like I was looking around during every pose and trying to push myself harder to outdo them or anything but I was very conscious whenever I had to replace chatarunga with child-pose – and I can’t even do child-pose right.  Who gets corrections to child pose?

I feel like there’s a lesson to learn here. Women often do their best to “exceed expectations” – we try to hard, we do too much, we want to have an impressively clean house, innovative home-cooked meals, an successful professional life, a strong healthy kick-ass body; we want to take care of our families, have a dynamic social life, and be the friend our friends need indeed. It’s pretty overwhelming, but who is really judging us? Who sets our standards for all of these things? Who defines whether we’re “good” at one of these areas? Nobody but ourselves.

Often, the things that make other people think we’re good are completely different. For example, turning in absolutely perfect work at school or work isn’t what makes you popular or gets you promoted – it’s knowing how to get along with people. Throwing your kid the absolutely perfect birthday party or being there with freshly-baked cookies and milk every day when they get off the bus isn’t what makes them love you (although the cookies help), it’s listening to them, really listening, and helping them think through things, and creating situations where they feel they can speak and be listened to.

Many years ago, I read an interview in Real Simple with some woman, a successful professional with a beautiful, lovely house and a happy, smiling family – I can’t even remember who it was now, but I remember it because of something she said. To paraphrase: We’re all happy here and I don’t worry about whether there’s hair in the sink or not; if it’s important to someone that it’s not there, let them clean it out.

She had defined “good” for her housekeeping, made her peace with what was important to her, and didn’t let it bother her.


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